Jimmy Nesbitt hoping for encore against AP McCoy's Albertas Run
Northern Ireland actor Jimmy Nesbitt roared his heart out when his beloved Coleraine won the Irish Cup a decade ago.
The star of Cold Feet and the Hobbit has taken to racing with the same gusto and cheered his horse Riverside Theatre to victory in the Ryanair Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival.
Riverside Theatre – named after the venue in Coleraine where Nesbitt started his acting career – attempts to defend his Ryanair Chase title today, though will have see off the Ulster challenge of AP McCoy on Albertas Run.
Riverside got the better of Albertas last year by half a length.
Trainer Nicky Henderson hopes veterinary treatment has worked the oracle for Riverside Theatre, whose one appearance this season yielded a sixth-placed finish in the King George.
"He will go back to the Ryanair Chase and is in good form," said the Seven Barrows handler.
"We thought he had a wind issue after running in the King George.
"We sent him to Bristol University to be checked out – they discovered that his wind was fine but he had bad ulcers which have now been successfully treated."
Albertas Run won the Ryanair in 2010 and 2011.
He has, however, been sidelined since the Melling Chase at Aintree last April.
"Albertas has been a superstar for us," said trainer Jonjo O'Neill.
"He's a great little horse and he has a great sporting owner (Trevor Hemmings) and the horse has given him and all of us a lot of pleasure.
"I don't know why it is, but he just doesn't do well in really bad weather, and he's always been like that.
"He's really good in the autumn when it's nice and then through the winter he likes to hibernate.
"Then when he gets a bit of sun on his back in the spring he comes alive," said O'Neill.
Meanwhile, Trainer Nick Williams believes today's Ladbrokes World Hurdle is far from a two-horse race.
With three-time winner Big Buck's sidelined by injury, the stayers' championship is an open affair this term, although Williams' Reve De Sivola and the Henderson-trained Oscar Whisky top the market.
The pair fought out a great finish to the Cleeve Hurdle on this course in January, with Reve De Sivola edging out Oscar Whisky by a neck.
Williams' eight-year-old had only returned to action the previous month after a year off when chasing home Big Buck's at Newbury before impressively landing the Long Walk at Ascot.
Williams said: "It's a big, open race, it's certainly not a two-horse race, and the Festival has not been a lucky place for us so far."
Richard Johnson has a 100 per cent record on the eight-year-old so far having ridden him in his last two starts and his first ever Festival winner came in this race on Anzum in 1999.
"I was very lucky to pick up the ride on him just before Christmas," he said. "He looks like my best chance of the week."